This morning I attended a panel discussion on viral media tactics sponsored by the Ad Council at Google Headquarters and attended by a number of non-profit public relations folks from the National Capitol Region. Presenters included representatives from GMMB, New Media Strategies and Home Front Communications. The discussion points apply to Government 2.0, a frequent topic here, so I wanted to share a few important points with Security Debrief readers.

A good engagement strategy starts with having a defined message and knowing where you want to strategically position your organization.   Engagement in new media involves a loss of control, that’s what makes it such a transparent and authentic medium. As we experienced when we launched into blogging at TSA, readers and followers want to share their opinions and comments, and those are not always positive sentiments. Once your organization gets over its initial fear of criticism and pulls the trigger, you can use these insights to your advantage. Viral relationships are built on trust, and such authenticity can breed good will with a bounce.

Whatever success translates to for you, effective engagement drives the desired outcome: call to action, increased awareness, donations, votes.  For example, here at Adfero Group, some of my colleagues have created a tremendously effective campaign for the U.S. Chamber – the Virtual March Against Card Check. As an alternative to the traditional Congressional letter writing campaign, it is a virtual march on Washington where you can create your own avatar and place him/her on the National Mall.  Your avatar also shows up on a map of the United States based on your zip code.

To be truly effective everyone on the panel agreed you must tread beyond your website and foray into social communities where conversations are already happening. The hottest social network of the moment is Twitter, where you tweet in 140 character sound bytes, gain followers and find others to follow. Who is doing it? Just about everyone — politicians, celebrities, C-Suite executives, mommy bloggers.

Will it be a here today gone tomorrow phenomenon like some virtual communities that were big 18 months ago? Who can truly predict? Today Twitter IS “all that,” as my ’tween daughter would say.

Nearly everyone is using Facebook and You Tube to expand their reach, but other sites to explore include: LinkedIn, My Space, Vimeo, Viddler, Smug Mug, Flickr, Hulu, Wikis etc…  Presenters likened new media strategies to gardening: “you must tend it and water it after you make the initial investment,” and relationships: “it takes time and commitment.”

Results can be measured by reviewing qualitative goals: are you building relationships with key audiences? Participating in communities? Creating dialogue? Quantitative metrics include platform measurements, number of signatures or donations. It’s best to start with a baseline analysis and then filter out channels that don’t get a good return.

This is an exciting time to practice public relations. People are social and communicative by nature and new media enables us to gain insights and share perspective. Now that I’ve posted my blog, I will tweet about it and write something on my Facebook wall!

Ellen Howe is a Vice President at Adfero Group. She formerly served as Assistant Administrator of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs at the Transportation Security Administration.

  • Ellen,

    Great post and thanks for the mention (New Media Strategies). My colleague Jenni (the one with the gardening analogy) and I very much enjoyed sharing some thoughts with the group and would love to keep the conversation going. Feel free to drop me a line anytime over email or, dare I say it, Twitter: ;)

    All the best,

  • Hi Ellen,
    I would like to echo Leslie’s sentiments – thanks so much for the acknowledgment. I too would be interested in continuing the conversation – I feel that there is a lot of information out there but few focus on the building blocks of social media. Here is my Twitter as well: